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Book Review

by Avaera
(Parts V and VI)





"1960's : Jean-Claude Eloy at the Domaine Musical, in Paris"

An important work devoted to the "Domaine Musical" was published in 1992 by the musicologist, Jésus Aguila, from the University of Toulouse–Le Mirail.

The "Domaine Musical" - a concert organization founded by Pierre Boulez in 1953 based on private funding, and which was active up until 1973 – has remained well-known far beyond a strictly Parisian musical circle. It constituted one of the most essential poles of modernity in Paris during the twenty years of its existence. These concerts were entirely devoted to the discovery of new music... mainly serial music from the post-war period and beyond - Bério, Boulez, Pousseur, Stockhausen, but also Kagel and many others. They took place in front of an elite audience (the list of subscribers counted numerous figures from the art and literary world) and the international reputation of these concerts placed them among the most influential events in the second half of the 20th century. During the sixties, other organizations were created elsewhere, following the "Domaine Musical" model, always centered around "chamber music" type ensembles.

These concerts were largely responsible for helping the Parisian audience – quite uninformed at this time - to discover some of the greatest historical figures of 20th century music : the Viennese school (Schoenberg, Berg, Webern), the precursors (Varèse), etc...

Pierre Boulez conducted and oversaw the organization from its founding until 1967, when Gilbert Amy assumed the position until 1973, at which point he decided to discontinue these concerts, given the fact that Pierre Boulez was scheduled to return to Paris, this time with state support and the creation of the double institution : Ircam (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique-Musique) and Intercontemporain (Ensemble Inter-Contemporain).

Jean-Claude Eloy was present at the time of these concerts. Firstly, as a young student, fascinated by what could be discovered, and then (in 1962 – 1963 – 1964), he made his own very well-received debut as a composer at the "Domaine Musical", under the patronage of Pierre Boulez, whose direct pupil he was. As of 1962, and as requested by Pierre Boulez, he took over the writing and editing of all the programs and program notes. This activity ceased in 1965 when Jean-Claude Eloy broke with Parisian musical circles, a break that was soon followed by Boulez’s break as well.

The work by Jésus Aguila relates this twenty-year period of activity : the specifically musical work accomplished ; the works featured ; the feverish atmosphere of the early years ; the discussions and aesthetic controversies ; the social context ; the political intrigues of the sixties ; etc...

Under the heading: "Jean-Claude Eloy : Imitation and Transgression", information is given about Eloy’s participation in these concerts (pp. 292-301). In addition, chapter IV ("From Marginality to Institutionalization") recounts the whole affair in 1965-66 about Gilbert Amy’s succession at "Domaine Musical" and the ways in which French musical policies were intertwined. A paragraph entitled "The departure of Jean-Claude Eloy" (p. 110 and following pages) sheds some light on this episode.

Published in French :

"Le Domaine Musical"
Pierre Boulez et vingt ans de création contemporaine
("The Musical Domain" - concerts of the "Domaine Musical" in Paris
Pierre Boulez and twenty years of contemporary creation
Éditions Arthème Fayard, Paris, 1992



"Anâhata at the Donaueschingen festival"

In 1996, the German musicologist and critic, Josef Häusler, published a large, important work devoted entirely to the Donaueschingen festival: "Spiegel der Neuen Musik : Donaueschingen - Chronik – Tendenzen – Werkbesprechungen".

Thoroughly documented, this work outlines the history of the prestigious festival where the greatest musical figures of the 20th century were featured – from its founding in 1921 until 1996. Works and composers are written about in great detail.

After commenting on Jean-Claude Eloy’s participation in festivals conducted by Pierre Boulez in 1963 and 1964 ("Equivalences", "Fragments", pp. 235 - 236), he devotes an entire text to the integral production of the "Anâhata" cycle at the festival in 1990, in a chapter entitled "Asiatica" (pp. 361-365).

This text is interesting on more than one level. It engages in a stalwart defense of this work, its production and motivations, taking into account a very favorable general response, but also critical reviews and professional opinions that were agressive, divided and culturally unable to cope with Jean-Claude Eloy’s radical departure from all norms.

It is indeed true that for this work the composer relies on an ensemble of musicians from a culture that is very distant from European culture : the most ancient music of Japan, "Gagaku" for the three solo instrumentalists and "Shômyô" for the two solo singers (Buddhist monks). Jean-Claude Eloy already had vast experience with such musicians after the performance of his work "In Search of the Meditative Flame" in Tokyo at the National Theater of Japan in 1983. But for "Anâhata", he places these musicians at the core of a very elaborate electro-acoustic production, to which he adds (for the first work of the cycle) a very rich percussion, whose roots, for the most part, come from different regions in Asia.

The length of the work probably had something to do with the allergic reactions in professional circles, as the complete "Anâhata" cycle took up two concerts, out of the seven concerts offered in the 1990 festival.

Other motivations for this controversy undoubtedly came from a text by Jean-Claude Eloy published in the festival program ("Anlässlich Anâhata" - text n° 47-c from the catalog of Jean-Claude Eloy), which restates different themes from text n° 44 ("Le long cheminement d’une rencontre" - The long road of an encounter), later developed in texts n° 54 ("Quelques repères sur les origines d’une collaboration avec des musiciens d’autres civilisations" - Some references on the origins of a collaboration with musicians from other cultures), and n° 58 ("Une rencontre nécessaire" - An essential encounter). In this text, Jean-Claude Eloy very clearly denounced the hegemony of Occidental music in relation to other musical cultures, as well as a certain "euro-centric bias" in contemporary music. His aesthetic choices ("contemplative music", passages in non-tempered modalities) distanced themselves rather markedly from practices established by Occidental modernity, the historical and institutional "avant-garde" - one of whose platforms is precisely the Donaueschingen festival.

It should be noted here that Josef Häusler was the "Musikdramaturg" and "Redakteur" at the Südwestfunk in Baden-Baden from 1959 to 1991. This position had placed him for several years in a position of decision-maker for the Donaueschingen festival, where he exercised a role similar to artistic director. That such obvious openness was possible within one of the avant-garde’s flagship festivals triggered possible defensive reactions on the part of a critical milieu that felt it had been "provoked". However, no musical provocation from the composer and his musicians was noted by the audience that remained alert and receptive during long concerts. But maybe that, in itself, was what constituted THE provocation ! ... And it was a provocation, certainly, for an audience to adhere in the eyes of an intellectual nomenklatura that for decades had held a tight grip on the majority of the professional and ideological powers related to musical modernity.


A. (Avaera) : How would you explain, Jean-Claude Eloy, these divergent reactions to your work ?

JCE. (Jean-Claude Eloy) : These reactions didn’t manifest themselves immediately, during the concert or after the different parts of the work. On the contrary, audience response was very friendly. One of the two large concert halls used at Donaueschingen was filled to overflowing ! My lighting technician during rehearsal had counted about 800 seats. At the concert, there were even young people seated on the floor. Doctor Kalmus, from Universal Edition-London, who for years had been saying to me "Too long !" after some of my works, called me after "Anâhata II" to say laughingly : "Too short ! Much too short !". Only afterwards did a certain "word of mouth" start to make its way. By "mouth" I mean some of my colleagues, the ones with set ideas in their heads who communicated their ideology to various critics with no true understanding or knowledge. Amazing articles started to appear : "Buddhists invade the Black Forest !" ; "Anâhata : a work whose place should be in a commercial music festival..."; etc...

Faced with these reactions, one must note with regret the persistence within modernity of a form of dogmatism. A philosophical dogmatism, sharply revealing on this occasion its own cultural foundations. Not truly tainted by nationalism, but rather by a form of "continentalism", by a sort of poorly hidden racism, by a strongly rooted "conviction of superiority", revealing a new form – veiled but aggravated, and thus revealed in spite of itself ! – of a pseudo hegemonic colonialism, which I denounce !

A. : What was the reasoning behind it ?

JCE : But that’s just the problem, there was no reasoning ! There were only insults, arrogance and the demonstration, the assertion of a single thought in relation to "modernity", established certainties hammered over and over. Anything coming from elsewhere, outside of an Occidental sphere, could only belong to an exotic "bazaar", not to be taken seriously at the risk of derailing the most pious of avant-gardes from its straight and narrow road!

During an interview that I had given for Stuttgart television, the young man interviewing me pointed to the two monk singers (reputed and respected in Japan) rehearsing on stage and said: "Of course, those two over there are actors in costume that you placed there, right ?..." The interview took place an hour before the beginning of the concert, while the concert hall doors were still closed, the concert hall still completely empty. Panoramic shots of the empty hall, with its 800 empty seats (Ionesco’s dream !) were taken, and these images - cleverly misplaced within the final cut – were accompanied by these words : "... concerts like these can attract no one...". An excellent example of the totally hypocritical techniques manipulating opinions that are used to excess by the official machinery that frame and surround artistic "life". We hear that we have freedom of artistic expression in our democratic societies. Who dares to assert such vulgar lies ?

A. : Didn’t you think about protesting, and suing the television station ?

JCE. : What for ? How can you, nowadays, attack the official reporting of a powerful television station, reputed for its "progressive" stands, when the harm has already been done as soon as the story is on the air ? You need to be willing to waste a lot of time and a lot of money.

A. : But are you able to define a dominant argument, a theme, or a persistent idea behind this criticism ?

JCE. : According to the established criteria and received ideas that were expressed, "progress" (for those cultures whose roots are different from ours) should come from a pure and simple adoption of European avant-garde practices and models, and not from attempting to exist through the realization of a historical unfolding and a reverse-type movement, such as what I offered as an example.

On this occasion, from a number of eminent voices, I heard ideas relating to cultural belonging of peoples that I thought came from a different age, that are primitive and completely contradictory. And this is still going on today within many institutional circles. On the one hand, these voices assert the capacities and the right for Asian musicians – or other non-westernized parts of the globe – to fashion themselves on the Occidental model, by adopting the same techniques, by using the same materials, etc... This, for the sake of Universalism in our culture. On the other hand, these same voices reject the possibility of a reverse development, by excluding on principle the capacity, the right, of Occidental musicians to creatively and knowledgably take on non-Occidental music, or even simply learn how to use some of their materials.

The worst part is that Asians themselves, Orientals, numerous cultures, have often been contaminated by such Occidental prejudice. I recall an evening in Tokyo, after a lecture and recorded presentation of "Anâhata" at the University of Kunitachi, given in the presence of Japanese musicians who had performed this work at its European premiere, before its revival at the Donaueschingen festival. A dinner had kindly been offered to our whole group by the Professor Ebisawa : Director of this very vast musical university. He was a member of the Mozart society, and seemed puzzled after my lecture. He said to me : "The major difference between these two types of music is that Occidental music – Mozart and many others – is UNIVERSAL music. Our national Japanese music will never be able to become universal music". My status as guest, my respect for the Professor Ebisawa and certain basic rules of Japanese courtesy kept me from pursuing the question. I settled for saying : "Do you really think so ?..."

But the question that should be asked in relation to this persistent argument is the following : "Who conferred this capacity and decreed this universal mission upon practically all of our Occidental music ? When ? In what circumstances ? Where are the decrees ? Have they been deciphered in an old treaty in Sanskrit, Greek or Latin ? Were they written on the walls of a Pharoah’s tomb ? Must we climb the slopes of Mount Ararat or Mount Sinai to find them buried in the remains of an ark, or read them engraved in letters on a rock face ? Where do these tables of the law come from ? Who decreed the Universalism of our culture, if not ourselves, and more particularly our 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, with their immense colonial expansion ?"

Exclusive interview "hors-territoires" - Avaera. © Copyright 2005. All reproduction, publication, translation, public use are forbidden without prior authorization from "hors-territoires". Requests for authorization:


This discussion remains open. But in the last fifteen years, it has weakened even as it has broadened with the acceleration of worldwide communication, the gradual recognition of minorities, the circulation of recordings and artists, the development of a livelier and more authentic ethnomusicology, democratic access to long-distance travel, the recognition and greater preservation of the cultural heritage of humanity. This broadening comes accompanied by other risks : hybridization-acculturations. Whatever the case may be, this discussion brings to life Valéry’s famous words : "Civilizations, know that you are all mortal".

Published in German :

"Spiegel der Neuen Musik : Donaueschingen
– Chronik – Tendenzen – Werkbesprechungen"
("Mirror of the New Music : Donaueschingen
- Chronicle - Tendencies - Discussions of works"
Bärenreiter-Verlag, Kassel, und J. B. Metzler, Stuttgart und Weimar, 1996.